Keri Martinowich PhD

Lead Investigator, Lieber Institute for Brain Development; Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Telephone Number: 410-955-1510
Fax Number: 410-955-1044

855 N. Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD 21205
Room: 382 Rangos Building
Areas of Research
Systems, Cognitive + Computational Neuroscience
Neural Circuits, Ensembles + Connectomes
Neurobiology of Disease

Graduate Program Affiliations

Neuroscience Training Program

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    (from L to R) Genetically labeled interneurons in the cerebral cortex, genetically labeled pyramidal cells in the hippocampus, automated tracking of an animal during behavior and power spectrogram of cortical brain activity while an animal is actively behaving.

Molecular and Cellular Regulation of Neural Plasticity

Neural plasticity allows for physiological changes in the brain during both development and in adulthood. We study how specific forms of plasticity contribute to regulation of circuits that mediate complex brain function and behavior in order to define how deficits in these processes lead to psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.  Current projects focus on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a member of the neurotrophin family implicated in survival, maturation and differentiation of numerous cell types, synaptogenesis and regulation of dendritic morphology.  BDNF is a key regulator of synaptic plasticity both in the developing and adult brain.  These studies aim to contribute to the long-term goal of understanding how neural plasticity contributes to the function of circuits mediating complex brain function and behavior.   

The BDNF gene produces multiple transcripts, each composed of a 5’ untranslated region (UTR) exon spliced to a common coding exon. Each exon has a unique promoter, sensitive to different stimuli and exhibiting divergent transcription kinetics.  Which BDNF transcripts are produced depends on the nature of the stimulus and activation of different cell signaling pathways. Differences in splice variant expression patterns have been identified between brain regions, at key time-points in neurodevelopment, as well as in neurological and psychiatric disorders. Existence of unique promoters allows for precise temporal and stimulus-specific regulation of BDNF production, but the functional consequences of multiple transcripts encoding the same protein is not well understood.  Utilizing genetic manipulation in rodent models, we examine roles of BDNF splice variants.  Using cell-specific reporters, we investigate effects of individual splice variants on morphology, physiology and the transcriptome.  Data obtained at the cellular and molecular level helps to inform interpretation of alterations at the systems and network level as assessed by integration of neurophysiological signals and behavioral analysis.

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